|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season One: Ep. 1.28 “The City on the Edge of Forever” – (Original air date: Thursday, April 6, 1967)


Welcome to my rewatching of the original 79 episodes of the series that launched the franchise. Below are the bulletpointed notes I jotted down while watching “The City on the Edge of Forever.”

  • The Turtles are still “Happy Together” on top of the Billboard singles chart.
  • Two days prior to this day, on Tuesday, April 4, Snoopy’s friend Woodstock appears in the Peanuts comic strip for the first time. Charles M. Schulz wouldn’t name the little yellow bird “Woodstock,” until 1970, and, yes, he was named for the music festival.
  • The City on the Edge of Forever” went on to win a Writers Guild of America award and a Hugo award. It frequently appears on “best of” listings of Trek episodes. I realize that the contrarian attitude that often seems to dominate the Internet invites us to dislike this episode, but I just can’t. It’s on my All-Time Best Trek list as well. Will it end up at the top of the list? Time will tell.
  • Harlan Ellison, who wrote the original version of this episode, became one of its harshest critics. Ellison only recently stopped being a vocal critic about everything when he passed away.
  • I own a copy of Ellison’s original screenplay for the episode. It is, indeed, a thing of rare beauty and would make a good big-budget motion picture. Ellison was unprepared for the collaborative nature of television production and resented the input of others, and especially the budgetary restraints that necessitated some rewrites.
  • I feel I should point out that it was Ellison’s original teleplay that won the Writers Guild of America award, but, reportedly, only two lines from the original survive untouched in the final version.
  • Ellison also claimed that William Shatner had asked for rewrites because Leonard Nimoy was given more lines than he was.
  • In the teaser of the episode, Dr. McCoy accidentally overdoses himself with an accidental injection of cordrazine, which is a strong stimulant used solely in the Trek universe.
  • McCoy loses his damned mind, yelling about killers and assassins as he escapes from the bridge via the turbolift.
  • Kirk orders a security alert. End of teaser.
  • As Act One begins, McCoy escapes from the ship via transporter. Kirk sends a landing party to the planet surface after him.
  • The landing party is comprised of Kirk, Spock, Scott, Uhura and two others I don’t know. They discover a city in ruins with a bizarre-looking portal in the middle of things. I was just happy that Uhura finally gets to leave the bridge.
  • Kirk and Spock examine the portal while the rest look for McCoy. The portal seems to be the epicenter of all the time disruptions they had been experiencing, their reason for being at the planet in the first place. Kirk wonders aloud what the object is.
  • The portal itself responds in a loud, echoing voice, “A question! Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question.”
  • It goes on to identify itself as the Guardian of Forever.
  • Because I am who I am, I couldn’t help but think of the computer Deep Thought in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is, as you know, 42.
  • Spock, who’s no dummy, figures out that the Guardian is a time portal. The Guardian itself confirms this fact and offers a gateway into Earth’s past, which is McCoy’s cue to show himself and get temporarily subdued by a Vulcan nerve pinch.
  • It doesn’t last long, however. He recovers and dashes into the time portal, disappearing.
  • Afterward, Uhura is unable to contact the Enterprise.
  • The Guardian says, “Your vessel, your beginning, all that you knew . . . is gone.” 
  • The area immediately surrounding the Guardian must be immune to temporal changes, or the rest of the landing party would have disappeared as well.  Right?  Don’t think about it too much.
  • McCoy has managed to change the future from some point in the distant past, and the landing party is stranded on this strange planet. End of Act One.
  • So, Act Two begins with a definite plan. To return to the past themselves and stop the drug-addled McCoy from doing whatever it is he did to change history.
  • Kirk and Spock go back into the Earth past, appearing a week or a month prior to McCoy’s appearance. They are in 1930s New York City. They steal some period clothing, evade capture by the police through judicious use of the Vulcan nerve pinch, and end up hiding out in the basement of the 21st Street Mission.
  • This is, of course, the mission run by Edith Keeler, played to the hilt by the youthful Joan Collins. Being the kind, empathetic type, Edith offers the two of them jobs so that they can earn some money.
  • Rewind for a minute or two. During the policeman scene, Kirk explained Spock’s pointed ears by saying he was Chinese and the ears were a result of an accident with a mechanical rice picker. This was a not-Ellison bit that he absolutely hated.  I’m not sure he hated it because he didn’t write it or because it is blatantly racist.
  • Back to the 21st Street Mission. Kirk and Spock join the other down-on-their-luck men at dinner that evening. Edith speaks to the assembled group.
  • She says: “Now, let’s start by getting one thing straight. I’m not a do-gooder. If you’re a bum, if you can’t break off of the booze or whatever it is that makes you a bad risk, then get out. Now I don’t pretend to tell you how to find happiness and love when every day is just a struggle to survive, but I do insist that you do survive because the days and the years ahead are worth living for. One day soon man is going to be able to harness incredible energies, maybe even the atom. Energies that could ultimately hurl us to other worlds in some sort of spaceship. And the men that reach out into space will be able to find ways to feed the hungry millions of the world and to cure their diseases. They will be able to find a way to give each man hope and a common future, and those are the days worth living for. Our deserts will bloom.”
  • Kirk is fascinated by this 1930s woman who has foreseen atomic power and space flight.
  • Edith teaches them that a “flop” means a place to sleep and she escorts them to the place where she stays.
  • The set that’s standing in for NYC is the same one where the Andy Griffith Show was filmed. This may qualify as irony.  It was also used in “Miri” and “The Return of the Archons.”
  • Time has passed. Spock has built something that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Frankenstein movie. I think it’s called a Jacob’s Ladder. You’ve seen them before. Two vertical wires with electricity arcing between them.
  • Spock needs about five or six pounds of platinum. Kirk tells him he’s not likely to get it. Or silver or gold, for that matter.
  • When Edith Keeler shows up informing them about a job paying twenty-two cents an hour for five hours of work, she asks what the device is. Spock tells he that he’s endeavoring to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bearskins. That Spock. What a card!
  • Spock uses his sensitive Vulcan hearing to open a combination lock on a tool box to “borrow” some tools. Edith finds out about it and is disappointed in the two men, but Kirk convinces her that Spock will return the tools after he’s finished using them.
  • Edith says she’ll look the other way on the condition that Kirk walk her home. She has questions she wants to ask him.
  • First at bat, “Why does Spock call you Captain? Were you in the war together?”
  • Kirk says they served together. Edith wants to know why Kirk doesn’t want to talk about it. She tells Kirk to let her help.
  • Let me help.” Kirk repeats the words and makes a cryptic comment about a famous author writing a classic novel with just that theme, saying those three words were recommended even over “I love you.”
  • I’m not sure if this is an allusion to a real novel. It’s always bugged me. 100 years from 1930 would be 2030. I’m guessing it’s not meant to be a real novel, since Kirk goes on to say the author came from a planet circling that far left star in Orion’s belt.
  • While Kirk is courting Miss Keeler, Spock is able to raise an image on the tricorder screen of a newspaper. It says that Edith Keeler, a social worker, was killed today.
  • Spock also pulls up a report about Edith meeting with FDR six years from now.
  • The tricorder burns up before they can get any more.
  • Two possible futures. One in which Edith dies this year in some sort of automobile accident. Another where she becomes nationally famous six years from now. Which is the future that ensures the existence of the Enterprise and her crew?
  • Most importantly, and Spock wants to know this, what if they discover that in order to set things straight again, Edith Keeler must die?
  • Duh-duh-duhnn! End of Act Two.
  • Act Three. Of course, Dr. McCoy is the random variable here and he finally shows up in NYC, still yelling about assassins and murderers. He chases down a derelict, rants and raves, then loses consciousness. The derelict steals McCoy’s phaser and then accidentally disintegrates himself.
  • This part of the scene was edited out of some later editions of the episode, but was restored on DVD.  I have to admit that showing the derelict’s self-immolation was an odd choice, especially as its seems it was played for slapstick comedy.
  • Spock tells Kirk that it’s going to take another couple of days before he can make another attempt to find out which version of the future is the correct one. Kirk needs to know. He’s already in love with Edith Keeler, you see.
  • McCoy finds his way into Edith’s mission the next morning. He’s coming down from his cordrazine high and is semi-lucid once again. He’s still suffering from paranoia and thinks someone is after him.
  • Edith offers McCoy a cot in the back room.
  • Spock finds out which future is the correct one. The growing pacifist movement of the late 1930s delayed the US’s entry into WWII. While peace negotiations dragged on, Germany completed its heavy-water experiments and Germany ends up winning the war. This was all the result of McCoy coming back to the past and somehow preventing Edith’s death in 1930.
  • Jim, Edith Keeler must die.
  • Spock says this. That’s an act break if I’ve ever heard one.
  • Act Four.
  • Under Edith’s ministrations, McCoy is nearly back to his old self before long.
  • Edith and Kirk are heading out to take in a Clark Gable movie at the Orpheum. When Kirk asks who Clark Gable is, she comments that Dr. McCoy said the same thing.
  • Dr. McCoy? Dr. Leonard McCoy is here?
  • Kirk tells Edith to stay where she is as he gets Spock and they return to the mission for a reunion with Dr. McCoy. Kirk sees Edith beginning to cross the street towards them and starts to warn her about an oncoming truck. Spock says, “No, Jim!” McCoy, who has no idea what’s going on, begins to run out to help her, but Kirk has to hold him back as the truck runs over and kills the woman he loves.
  • McCoy is outraged. “You deliberately stopped me, Jim. I could have saved her. Do you know what you just did?”
  • Spock: “He knows, Doctor. He knows.”
  • Kirk, Spock and McCoy return to the planet back in the 23rd Century. The Guardian of Forever assures them that everything is back to normal. It even offers further journeys for the Enterprise crew.
  • Kirk, who just lost the love of his life, says, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
  • The network wanted this line cut. The word “hell” had been used on other occasions, but never as an expletive, as in this case. It stayed in.

Even though “The City on the Edge of Forever” didn’t quite meet the author Harlan Ellison’s personal standards, it remains highly watchable, entertaining, and heartbreaking. It made my list, as I’ve said before.

This is superior Trek. I would be shocked if it didn’t make the Top-10 on my All-Time Best Trek list. Maybe even at #1. We’ll see.

5 out of a possible 5 stars from me. This one never gets old.

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